Forum on road plan in Wilton

WILTON – The Route 101 corridor didn’t grow as much as was predicted in 1990. The population is getting older and the infrastructure is aging. What is now needed in the area?

On Thursday, June 9, several members of the Nashua Regional Plan­ning Commission hosted a forum to discuss a 10- to 20-year road and infra­structure plan, the first of three scheduled in the area. Ten people attended from Milford, Merrimack, Mason, Lyndeborough and Mont Vernon, as well as Wilton.

Executive Director Tim Roache moderated the meeting. The NRPC is the local administrator of federal programs, he said, and the focus "is on the state’s 10-year high­way plan and beyond. We are required by federal law to look beyond that, to 2040."

The NRPC study of the corridor looked at several areas, he said, including the aging population, pub­lic transportation, com­muter rail, bicycle lanes, sustainable funding meth­ods, improved east-west travel, ways to manage traffic and to promote economic growth, ensur­ing public health and protecting the environ­ment.

"Our goals are in­creased mobility, system sustainability, quality of life and implementa­tion," Roache said.

Studies made in the past were used in the current program for com­parison.

"They were based on the assumptions of the time," he said, "and the high growth predicted didn’t happen."

Forum member Jenni­fer Czysz said, "Popula­tion is the No. 1 driver. We aren’t seeing the rate of growth as in the past. No one predicted the re­cession."

The current growth rate for most of the area is about 4 percent, she said.

"The median age is about 45, and there are more age-restricted com­munities," Czysz said. "And there are pockets of underserved people, low-income and those without vehicles. With­out a means of transpor­tation, they can’t get to jobs."

The NRPC study also looked at where the growth is and at sensi­tive areas such as endan­gered species, farmlands, conserved/conservation lands and wetlands. It was agreed that the prob­lems are regional.

Another study concen­trated on commuters: where people live and where they work, and what routes they take. Nashua, Manchester and the Boston area are the top destinations, al­though, she noted, "More people seem to be work­ing nearer home."

Public transportation was discussed at length. Only Nashua has regular buses. On-demand ser­vices such as Souhegan Valley’s "blue bus" do not reach into the small­er towns, leaving elderly and handicapped resi­dents to rely on other vol­unteer services.

Bart Hunter, of Wilton, asked about rail. Trans­portation "is a regional problem," he said. "Why was a rail study left out the state budget again?"

He also commented the proposed widening of Route 101: "There should have been an east-west highway years ago. It needs to be built all the way to Chesterfield. We need to find more ways to fund (highway projects), like an income tax. Our population is aging and our property taxes are go­ing up."

State Sen. Gary Dan­iels, of Milford, asked about public-private part­nerships.

Roache said they were possible for any kind of transportation project.

Another concern of those present was the condition of Route 101 in west Milford, from the former green bridge to the Irvin station. A cen­tral turning lane is under consideration, as is the reopening of Jones Cross­ing Road for east-bound traffic. Daniels said the Milford selectmen will be talking to the railroad about the possibility, since it would require an­other crossing.

"The state DOT wants to know what your needs are, what the towns are investing in," Czysz said.

State Rep. Carol Rob­erts, of Wilton, said, "We are talking about things to repair and refurbish. We need to think about the future. People don’t want to come and live out here" because of the road conditions. "People don’t want cars," requir­ing public transportation. "We don’t have the same problems we had 10 years ago."

Nelson Disco, of Merri­mack, commented on the constant need to repair bridges.

"There are better ways to build bridges," he said, "and we need to fix the bottleneck areas along 101."

Roache said improving the intersection of Routes 114, 101 and the Manches­ter b-pass in Bedford is on the list, as is another Merrimack River cross­ing in Merrimack to re­lieve traffic pressure in Nashua.

Forums are scheduled in Milford on Thursday, June 16, and in Hudson on Thursday, June 30. Forums are from 6-8 p.m. and are open to the pub­lic.